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The Daily Wildcat

 

    Pace and Cats have tough time with losing

    UA guard Linda Pace listens to head coach Joan Bonvicini, who is still searching for her 600th career win. Pace and the Wildcats have had trouble translating Bonvicinis guidance into wins this season.
    UA guard Linda Pace listens to head coach Joan Bonvicini, who is still searching for her 600th career win. Pace and the Wildcats have had trouble translating Bonvicini’s guidance into wins this season.

    Guard Linda Pace entered the Arizona women’s basketball program in 2003 when it was known as a Pacific 10 Conference powerhouse. The team had seven winning seasons and a .500 finish in the eight years preceding her arrival.

    In her first two years at Arizona, the team made two NCAA tournament appearances and even won a Pac-10 title.

    Now as Arizona’s only four-year senior, Pace sees nothing from her team now that resembles her first two seasons, as well as her expectations of being a Wildcat.

    “”This is not what I envisioned,”” Pace said.

    “”I envisioned years of success and a hard-working, winning program. Our team is close, but I think it comes down to a lot more aspects than just basketball.

    “”I’ve never seen the team struggle like this. My first two years here, we were pretty much a winning program and I definitely wasn’t used to losing at home if anything.””

    The Wildcats went 24-9 in Pace’s first season, and followed with a 20-12 finish. Then they did a complete 180, going 8-22 last season, and have had a disappointing overall record of 7-15, including 1-10 in the Pac-10.

    Pace said that last year was different for Arizona because of the circumstances with star senior Shawntinice Polk’s death, but added that this year there are no excuses for the team’s poor play.

    “”We have all the talent in the world,”” she said.

    “”Everybody’s a great player on the team, from the first to last player on the bench. We come out and work hard every day; it’s just that we don’t have that winning attitude or mentality.””

    The team has flirted several times with wins, but always ended up on the short end of the stick, including an 8-point halftime lead over USC that ended in a 9-point defeat.

    There was also the second half against then-No. 9 Stanford when Arizona scored 51 points and still lost by 10 points.

    “”Arizona’s been playing some of their best basketball,”” California head coach Joanne Boyle said after her team stomped on Arizona 84-64 on Jan. 27 in McKale Center. “”They haven’t won, but in the last five games, they’ve only been down four or five points.””

    Arizona’s other senior, Joy Hollingsworth, entered as a transfer from San Francisco her junior year, so she has not been able to draw any parallels to winning as a Wildcat.

    “”You definitely want to win every game,”” Hollingsworth said.

    “”You want to have the perfect season as a senior. Obviously it’s not going to happen, but you can’t just dwell on the past. You’ve got to just let things go because if you hang your head down after every loss, you’ll just go through the entire season like that.””

    UA head coach Joan Bonvicini has appeared flustered at press conferences after each loss, and with much reason. She said it’s unfortunate for players like Pace and Hollingsworth, who as seniors haven’t been able to experience winning in quite some time.

    “”They want to win,”” Bonvicini said. “”Any time you lose it, you just start to question your confidence. When you win, you just feel so good and feed off each other. You just want to turn that around, and that’s what’s hard.””

    Before the 2005-06 season, eight-out-of-10 times Bonvicini had teams won at least 20 games. She began that season at 583 wins. Nearly two years later, she is still two wins from the 600 milestone.

    “”Honestly we have not even talked about it,”” Pace said. “”It seems like a really long time ago we were hearing 598 wins, two away from 600. We just can’t seem to get any wins.””

    Said Hollingsworth: “”It’s been at two wins for quite a while. We definitely want to get those for her. That’s like the greatest accomplishment. She’s been coaching for a long time. She’s a Hall of Fame coach. We want to get her those two wins soon.””

    While Bonvicini maintained that she doesn’t think about the record, she certainly hears the whispers from those who believe her program has lost its edge.

    “”For a variety of reasons, we just can’t seem to put it together,”” Bonvicini said. “”It’s been tough. It’s not for a lack of effort, but it’s a little bit of a lot of different things.””

    The team has also seen a frustrating lack of consistency. There have been games it led and blew big leads, and there have been games where the Wildcats were getting blown out, came back and made an interesting game – but still found ways to lose.

    “”It’s been very disappointing,”” Bonvicini said. “”The thing we need to do is keep plugging away, continue to practice and put time in for extra work.””

    A huge theme of Arizona’s pre-season was its two sets of twins, and now neither set is fully active. Center Beatrice Bofia was lost for the season before it even started due to a tear in her anterior cruciate ligament and when freshman forward Rheya Neabors went out with a stress fracture in her foot, the twins were left alone on the court.

    “”I’m not an excuse person,”” Bonvicini said.

    “”But we’ve had significant injuries and we’ve had some players we thought we were going to count on, and they haven’t played to that potential they thought we would.””

    Arizona has also suffered the tough luck of having the 14th hardest schedule in the country, measured by the Ratings Percentage Index.

    The Wildcats actually fared well in their non-conference play, which included games against five ranked teams – including then-No. 1 Maryland – two more than they have seen in Pac-10 play, and entered conference play with a 6-6 record.

    “”Going into Maryland, our whole mindset was: ‘This is our year, we’re about to take off,'”” Pace said.

    “”We had high aspirations. We had a tough non-conference schedule but we won a few games. It seems like once we started losing, we didn’t know how to get back on track to that winning attitude.””

    Pace recognized that the team today is a long way from where they were at the opening of conference play.

    “”It’s definitely frustrating because I didn’t want to go out like this,”” Pace said.

    “”Being seniors, this is me and Joy’s team. We want to leave this team victorious, and leave a winning program. It’s really frustrating with the losing record we have. We’re not even close to .500.””

    The team was picked to finish seventh in the Pac-10 this year, and with only one win, it sits in last place in conference play, tied with Washington State, whom the Wildcats play tonight, for last place.

    Bonvicini has taken the blame for the team’s struggles as she continues the quest for her 600th win. It’s just come a lot slower than she expected.

    “”It all comes down to me, and I’m responsible,”” she said. “”It’s hard. We’ve had some great teams here and this is a tough stretch right now, but we’re going to get through it.””

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